I Test, Therefore I Am: Creating a Foreign Language Teaching Philosophy
How much time have you spent thinking about your foreign language teaching philosophy?
I’m betting it’s right up there with making dentist appointments and cleaning out your garage.
After all, it’s engaging activities and fun curriculum that make language lessons successful, right?
Well, yeah. But all of that is informed by your teaching philosophy.
A good core philosophy drives everything you do as a teacher, from lesson planning to classroom management to the way you give assessments. In fact, your teaching philosophy is a key element that contributes to your students’ overall success.
Build a Foreign Language Teaching Philosophy Students Kant Resist
A young language teacher I know made the decision to completely overhaul her classroom routines not too long ago.
She decided that she needed to make her class more student-directed.
With this one simple decision came many changes:
- Seats were rearranged from rows into circular groups.
- Instead of standing in front of the class lecturing, the students now rotated through various activities and learning stations.
- Rather than conversing only with their teacher, students were encouraged to interact with each other and with native speakers through creative uses of technology.
In the beginning, these changes were met with mixed reviews. Students who were more comfortable with the old teaching style of sitting, listening and taking notes, were taken aback. They found this new routine unsettling and overly challenging.
Fortunately, this teacher was able to meet their questions and complaints by calmly explaining her philosophy. She believed that students would learn better if they had a more active role in the process. In fact, there was research to support this. She reassured her students that they were not in this alone; she would still be there to coach, to facilitate and to provide support when necessary.
This was an instance in which philosophy saved the day, and made a better learning experience for all.
So, what are the ingredients of a truly great foreign language teaching philosophy?
One that you can refer to over and over again to make decisions or explain your practices and methodology?
And where do you even start?
Fear not! Here’s a step-by-step guide to crafting your own fail-proof foreign language teaching philosophy.
Let’s start with the ways a good foreign language teaching ideology can help you.
How Your Teaching Philosophy Can Make You a Better Teacher
You wouldn’t teach with the same curriculum throughout your entire career as a language teacher, would you?
Hopefully, your answer is no, as curriculum needs to be adjusted to meet the interests and needs of the students.
The same applies to your teaching philosophy. As you learn new ideas and techniques, it’s important to modify your process so that you’re best suited for your learners.
Below are some reasons why you should be constantly thinking about ways to optimize your teaching philosophy.
Your philosophy articulates the reasons students should learn the language
It’s happened to all of us. That moment when a student gets a poor grade on a quiz, turns to you and asks, “Why do we have to learn this anyway?”
A core part of your teaching philosophy should look at why language learning is important for your students. Maybe it’s because they want to learn an “international language” for traveling purposes, or they’re planning to study abroad in a country that speaks a different language. Whatever the case, you need to look at why students should learn a specific language and let those reasons influence the way you conduct your lessons.
Your philosophy clarifies your goals as an educator
And then, there are those even more painful moments when even you aren’t sure why you’re doing this.
The good news is that your teaching philosophy will remind you of why you are doing this job, what your goals and objectives are and why you love it.
It also helps you realign your lesson plans with your ultimate goals.
It lays out and explains the reasons for your teaching methods
Why do you incorporate so many speaking and communication activities? Why do you use physical movement or TPRS as opposed to another method? Your teaching philosophy can articulate the reasons that you choose these methods, so you can easily explain your reasoning to others and to yourself.
The Ingredients of Success
At its heart, a teaching philosophy is a statement of your beliefs about teaching and learning. Of course, every educator is different and our beliefs will not be exactly the same. However, there are some common beliefs that are a part of any effective teaching philosophy. Here are a few ideas you may want to incorporate in your teaching philosophy so that you can become a more effective teacher.
Education is a service to the students
Powerful teaching and learning happens when educators view their students as clients, each with his or her own individual needs. Rather than approaching teaching with a heavy-handed, “top-down” mindset, great teachers believe that their students can be empowered to take an active role in their own learning.
Teachers who view education as a service may include a commitment to student-centered learning in their philosophy. Another way to show this belief in your philosophy is by referring to classroom discussions which encourage critical thinking.
Here are some ideas which you could tweak to fit your philosophy:
- “My goal is to empower my students to think and learn for themselves.”
- “I encourage active participation so that my students can build their own knowledge base.”
- “I’m committed to providing my students the resources they need to become independent learners.”
The experience of learning is inherently engaging—even fun
Great teachers believe that the process of learning is enjoyable. They don’t subscribe to the idea that acquiring knowledge must be difficult or painstaking. They spend time figuring out what motivates their students to get them engaged in the learning process.
You can talk about classroom games that your students enjoy, or about ways you have brought culture to life through experiences like food, music and authentic holiday celebrations. If you have an upbeat and friendly personality that just makes the classroom a fun place to be, you could also talk about that.
Here are some ways you might phrase that belief:
- “One of my main objectives is to motivate students.”
- “I convey enough enthusiasm to keep my students engaged and interested.”
- “I use technology to increase student motivation.”
Every student can learn
Great teachers have a strong conviction that every student can learn the language no matter their background, learning style, or past experience.
They go out of their way to individualize instruction for every student to make the learning process accessible for all.
You might talk about different activities you incorporate to appeal to different kinds of learners: visual, auditory, reading/writing and kinesthetic.
You could also talk about how you connect with students on a personal level in order to appeal to their interests and background in your teaching.
Another great point to address is how you modify your content or learning goals for students who struggle with different aspects of the learning process, or even those who are gifted and need an extra challenge.
- “I learn about my students’ prior knowledge so I can tap into what they already know.”
- “I use TPR and other forms of physical instruction to engage kinesthetic learners.”
- “I believe that every student deserves the opportunity to learn [name of target language] and I work hard to make it accessible to all.”
Teachers are lifelong learners
The best teachers are the ones who never stop learning! They learn from each other and even from their students. They use feedback and current research to help them improve. This helps students and teachers feel like they are working together towards a common goal.
To this end, you can share your personal history of language learning. How did you acquire your second or third language? What were your challenges? How do these challenges help you understand your students?
You can also share what you are learning now that helps you become a more effective educator.
- “I am always seeking out the newest research and technology to improve my students’ learning experience.”
- “My methodologies are constantly evolving as I continue to learn from my peers and students.”
- “I have a deep passion for learning.”
Fleshing It out and Summing It up
Besides simply stating your beliefs, it’s also important to reveal how these beliefs play out in your classroom.
Here are some ways to flesh out your core beliefs to show how your teaching philosophy works in day-to-day life.
Explain how your beliefs have changed over time
Maybe you used to be the kind of teacher who assigned worksheets and other kinds of “busywork,” but you’ve come to embrace more meaningful tasks as you evolved. Or perhaps you used to think of teaching as traditional “sage on the stage” lecturing, but have since moved towards student-directed learning.
Give specific examples of what you’ve accomplished
Instead of just saying what you love about a particular methodology, how about showing it?
If you have had success in using the lexical approach to language learning, present some data to show what you’ve achieved. Or relate a brief anecdote showing how TPRS helped a student grasp a difficult language concept.
Explain how you plan to accomplish your future goals
Where is your passion for learning and teaching going to take you next? Are there new methods you want to explore? New projects you’d like to try? Share your thoughts about where your beliefs might take in the future.
No matter what your convictions are, you can be sure that solidifying them in a powerful foreign language teaching philosophy will help you become the educator you want to be.
No two teachers are the same. Regardless of what your accomplishments, teaching style or future goals may be, a solid foreign language teaching philosophy can make you a more powerful educator. With a clear focus and direction, you can come up with a teaching methodology that helps students excel inside the classroom and out in the real world.